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Thames: Sacred River by Peter Ackroyd
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Thames: Sacred River (2007)

by Peter Ackroyd

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
483821,297 (3.57)34
  1. 00
    London's Thames: The River That Shaped a City and Its History by Gavin Weightman (John_Vaughan)
  2. 00
    London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets by Peter Ackroyd (John_Vaughan)
  3. 00
    Sweet Thames Run Softly by Robert Gibbings (John_Vaughan)
  4. 00
    The Faber Book of London by A. N. Wilson (John_Vaughan)
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    The Historic Thames by Hilaire Belloc (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Belloc extends his portrait up to the source, while Peter Ackroyd, covering the same geography, includes marvellous illustrations.
  6. 00
    Sailing Through China by Paul Theroux (John_Vaughan)
  7. 00
    London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Knowing and loving London means you have to know the Thames. Peter Ackroyd lovingly describes both with a deep knowledge of history.
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» See also 34 mentions

English (7)  Italian (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I enjoyed the book because the subject was new to me. The author doesn't know if he is writing a history, a travel book, or a prose poem. He fails at the latter and it blights his history and travelogue. I get really tired of his attempts to link Thames lore to classical mythology, except when he's talking about the Romans, of course. The pictures and photos are excellent. There's a case to be made that the Thames and Britain are closely linked in their history, that without the Thames, British history would have been very different, especially in regard to trade and military power. ( )
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd purports to offer a sister volume to the highly successful London: The Biography. To a point it succeeds, but in general the feeling of pastiche dominates to such an extent that the idea of biography soon dissolves into a scrapbook.

The book presents an interesting journey and many fascinating encounters. But it also regularly conveys a sense of the incomplete, sometimes that of a jumbled ragbag of associations that still needs the application of work-heat and condensation in order to produce something palatable. Thus a book that promises much eventually delivers only a partially-formed experience.

Ostensibly the project makes perfect sense. London: The Biography described the life of the city, its history and its inhabitants. There was a stress on literary impressions, art and occasional social history to offer context. This was no mere chronicle and neither was it just a collection of tenuously related facts. It was a selective and, perhaps because of that, an engaging glimpse into the author’s personal relationship with this great city.

Thames River flows like an essential artery through and within London’s life. Peter Ackroyd identifies the metaphor and returns to it repeatedly, casting this flow of water in the role of bringer of both life and death to the human interaction that it engenders. And the flow is inherently ambiguous, at least as far downstream as the city itself, where the Thames is a tidal estuary. At source, and for most of its meandering life, it snakes generally towards the east, its flow unidirectional. But this apparent singularity of purpose is complicated by its repeated merging with sources of quite separate character via almost uncountable tributaries, some of which have quite different, distinct, perhaps contradictory imputed personalities of their own.

Thus Peter Ackroyd attempts by occasional geographical journey but largely via a series of thematic examinations to chart a character, an influence and a history that feeds, harms, threatens and often beautifies London, the metropolis that still, despite the book’s title, dominates the scene. These universal themes – bringer of life, death, nurture, disease, transcendence and reality, amongst many others – provides the author with an immense challenge. Surely this character is too vast a presence to sum up in a single character capable of biography. And, sure enough, this vast expanse of possibility is soon revealed as the book’s inherent weakness. Thus the overall concept ceases to work quite soon after the book’s source.

A sense of potpourri and pastiche begins to dominate. Quotations abound, many from poets who found inspiration by this great river, but their organisation and too often their content leaves much to be desired. Ideas float past, sometimes on the tide, only to reappear a few pages on, going the other way. Sure enough they will be back again before the end. Dates come and go in similar fashion, often back and forth within a paragraph. No wonder the tidal river is murky, given that so many metaphors flow through it simultaneously.

And then there are the rough edges, the apparently unfinished saw cuts that were left in the rush to get the text to press. We learn early on that water can flow uphill. Young eels come in at two inches, a length the text tells us is the same as 25mm. We have an estuary described as 250 miles square, but only 30 miles long. We have brackish water, apparently salt water mixed with fresh in either equal or unequal quantities. Even a writer as skilful as Peter Ackroyd can get stuck in mud like this.

At the end, as if we had not already tired of a procession of facts only barely linked by narrative, we have an ‘Alternative Typology’ where the bits that could not be cut and pasted into the text are presented wholly uncooked – not even prepared.

Thames: The Biography was something of a disappointment. It is packed with wonderful material and overall is worth the lengthy journey but, like the river itself, it goes on. The book has the feel of a work in progress. This may be no bad thing, since the river is probably much the same. ( )
1 vote philipspires | Sep 12, 2012 |
Like his biography of London, Ackroyd's journey on the Thames takes us though geography, history, myth and memory to produce am idiosyncratic guide to the waterway that is a good companion to his earlier book. ( )
  billiecat | Apr 2, 2012 |
As usual, Ackroyd takes his reader on a bit of a whirlwind, this time a tour of the Thames river from source to mouth. The first few sections dragged a bit, and I didn't find his usual riveting prose there, but the later sections were extremely interesting and sparkling with his typical energy. I zipped through this. It's never a daunting task to read one of Ackroyd's doorstopping nonfiction works, because they are such a delight, and so well written. I now know all I probably want or need to know about the river. (One downside: since this was a review copy, none of the many listed illustrations were included. Oh, how I would have loved to see those illustrations!) ( )
  sansmerci | Sep 1, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Elegant and erudite, Ackroyd's gathering of rich treats does the famed tributary proud.
added by John_Vaughan | editPublishers Weekly (Jun 26, 2011)
 
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FOR PENELOPE HOARE
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0701172843, Hardcover)

The Thames displays the same qualities as London: The Biography: scholarship, wit, discursiveness, lovely descriptive writing, anecdotes, spirit of place and character. It is hugely enjoyable and sure to be another mammoth bestseller.

The Thames is about the river from source to sea, from prehistoric times to the present, its flora and fauna, the paintings and photographs inspired by the Thames, its geology, smells and colours, its literature, laws, magic and myths, its architecture, trade and weather.

The reader learns about the fishes that swim in the river and the boats that ply on its surface, about floods and tides, hauntings and suicides, miasmas and sewers, locks, weirs and embankments.

Here is Shelley floating on the river under poetical beech trees, Hogarth getting roaring drunk on a boat trip to Gravesend, William Morris wondering whether the same Thames water flowed past his windows in Hammersmith as flowed past his house at Kelmscott, 100 miles upriver.

Peter Ackroyd has a genius for digging out the most surprising and entertaining details, and for writing about them in the most magisterial prose.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:12 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

'The Thames' is about the river from source to sea. It covers history from prehistoric times onwards, the flora & fauna of the river, paintings & photographs inspired by the Thames, its geology, smells & colours, its literature, laws & landscape, its magic & myths, its architecture, trade & weather.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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